Corruption still standing in way of developing Baobab land

The corruption allegations and controversy around Baobab land in Makeni have continued hindering the development of the prime land. There is nothing happening at the construction site despite heavy interest in the land.

On April 4, 2013, law enforcement agencies recorded a warn and caution statement against former president Rupiah Banda over his alleged corrupt role in the controversial Baobab land in Kusaka’s Makeni area.

Police sources tell the Watchdog that Rupiah Banda, during his short corrupt filled presidency, received money to grab Baobab land and hand it over to his lawyer Sakwiba Sikota and his Egyptian partners.

When the police warn and caution someone, it is a clear statement that they have finalised investigation and are ready to arrest the suspect. It is the last step of investigation before arresting. Rupiah Banda has not yet been arrested but the warn and caution remains. This means that Rupiah could still be arrested for this offence except that now he controls the president and therefore the police.

Meanwhile, the prime piece of land adjacent to Baobab College in Lusaka’s Makeni area known as ‘Baobab’ land remains undeveloped. The Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) claims they are still investigation the corrupt way Baobab land was acquired by Sakwiba Sikota and his Egyptian partners. Sakwiba Sikota and his partners Mohamed Abdelfattah Abdelmguid Salama ‘own’ Baobab land through a company called Bantu Corporation. It is believed that Rupiah Banda is a shadow director in Bantu corporation and therefore one of the owners of Baobab land.

The brief background of Baobab land controversy is that, in 2006, the Lusaka city Council, which was dominated by PF councillors, earmarked the 190 hectares land for allocation to more than 1,000 private people and other commercial developers. But typical of PF, the councillors shared the land among themselves and gave the rest to PF cadres and relatives with a few genuine buyers. Mwanawasa grabbed the land from the corrupt PF city council and sold it to Legacy holdings to develop infrastructure. People who bought plots were refunded.

In 2009, after Mwanawasa’s death, Rupiah Banda decided to grab the land. He unreasonably and with a plan to get the land corruptly gave Legacy Holdings a 3-month ultimatum to construct shopping malls, golf course and housing complex. No one can do that within three months. But, since that was his aim, Banda grabbed the land by forcing Legacy Holdings to ‘sale’ it and gave it to Sakwiba Sikota and Salama, with him as shadow owner.

There was not point to grab the land from one commercial developer to another to do exactly the same tings.

After the PF assumed office in 2011, a former mayor of Lusaka Daniel Chisenga advised the then new PF Government to terminate and reverse the corrupt transaction on Baobab.

“As a council who are the planning authority, we are still in the dark about what these Egyptians are putting up there. All this is happening because the MMD decided to ignore us and it is appropriate that the Government reverses this transaction,” Chisenga said.

He said the land remained undeveloped to date because of the manner in which the transaction was handled.

Chisenga said apart from servicing the area, the local authority could have been earning revenue through rates and service charges.

In November 2012, a concerned citizen told the Watchdog that he was of the view that ACC officers were bribed to stop investigating Baobab land. See here

The ACC responded the same day by saying they were still investigating.

The Anti-Corruption Commission announced that it was investigating

The owners of Bantu Capital Corporation Limited on how they purchased about 190 hectares of Baobab land.

On Jan 27, 2012, the ACC placed a restriction order on the land to prohibit any activity on it by its owners. This restriction was removed by the High Court, but the ACC appealed to Supreme Court.

The owners of Bantu Corporation claim that they paid ZMK14 Billion (Kr14 Million) for 475 ACRES / 192 hectares Farm 4300/B Baobab Land. Bantu furthers says it plans to transform Baobab land into a modern residential area accommodating more than 2,000 housing units, a shopping mall, police station etc…

But information of the ground is that this is highly unlikely due to a multiplicity of issues including the ones just numerated above. It is difficulty to develop a piece of prime land acquired corruptly. There are too many people with interest in Baobab land. It is possible that the Egyptian investors were duped and whatever money they pumped in there has been lost. The truth is that with so many interested parties in that land, it will take decades to really settle the ownership of Baobab land. Rupiah Banda can use his influence on Edgar Lungu right now, but he must also ensure that government does not change otherwise such corrupt deals will be reversed and perpetrators arrested.

The latest problem however is that the partners in Bantu Corporation Sakwiba and Salama are not in good books thereby threatening the development of the facilities even further. But then, Sakwiba Sikota has a reputation of fighting and destroying his former clients (will show how soon.)

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